Notre Dame West Haven and New Canaan to meet in L semis
NEW CANAAN — If it feels like we have been here before it is because we have.
For the second-straight season, Notre Dame of West Haven will travel to New Canaan for a Class L semifinal game.
Last year, it was the Rams rolling to a 51-27 win, largely on the arm of Michael Collins. The Green Knights hope the experience of last year paired with a run through a brutal SCC Tier 1 schedule has them better prepared this time around.
The No. 6 Green Knights travel back to face the No. 2 Rams for the Class L semifinals Monday at 6:30 p.m. for their shot at redemption.
“I think it helps that we went there last year,” NDWH coach Tom Marcucci said. “It gives us a familiarity with their program and how they run things to have seen it in person. Stopping it is another issue. They jumped on us last year early and we broke down.”
New Canaan also knows what to expect and is ready for a Green Knights team with revenge on its mind.
No. 6 NOTRE DAME of WEST HAVEN (8-3) vs No. 2 NEW CANAAN (10-1)
LOCATION, TIME: Dunning Field, New Canaan 6:30 p.m. Monday
STORYLINES: Despite three losses the Green Knights earned the No. 6 seed in the tournament as a result of playing in the difficult SCC Tier 1. The teams met last year in the semifinals and any returning Notre Dame players will surely have revenge on their minds. The question for the Rams is can they win a fourth-straight state championship with a freshman signal caller. If they can, it will match the longest run of championships by the Rams (2006-09).
PLAYER TO WATCH, NOTRE DAME: Nico Ragaini (WR/DB, 6-1, 190) The senior wideout is one of the best players in the state, putting up 54 receptions for 924 yards and 6 TDs this season. Ragaini is a two-time New Haven Register All-State selection, the Register’s 2015-16 Athlete of the Year and a 3-time All-SCC football player. He’s made a verbal commitment to Cornell for lacrosse, but is considering offers to play football as well.
PLAYER TO WATCH, NEW CANAAN: Ryan O’Connell (RB/CB, 6-0, 190) The senior has rushed for 520 yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground to go along with 424 receiving yards and 5 more touchdowns despite playing with an ankle injury the final three games of the season. O’Connell also has 7 interceptions as a cornerback. O’Connell has committed to playing lacrosse at North Carolina.
QUOTABLE: “Playing in SCC Tier one has certainly helped us prepare for states. We have had tight games all season. The three teams that beat us have a combined record of 26-2 (Shelton, West Haven, Bishop Hendricken (RI)). We play really good teams all season but I’m not sure we have seen a team like New Canaan.” — ND-West Haven coach Tom Marcucci
CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY: New Canaan 11 state titles (1983, 93, 2001, 02, 06, 07, 08, 09, 13, 14, 15); NDWH 3 state titles (1991, 2001, 09)
TICKET INFO: Tickets available through the CIAC website or at the Hawes Plaza Gate at Dunning Field.
“There is something about Tom Marcucci who has been doing it there for a long time, and those kids are always tough and they always give you a great game,” New Canaan coach Lou Marinelli said. “I am sure they are going to want revenge after losing here last year.”
This is certainly a different Rams team the Knights will be facing this time around with freshman Drew Pyne now taking snaps and new faces all over the place for the defending Class L champions.
What has not changed is the offensive approach or the stifling defense of the Rams.
“New Canaan runs a very sophisticated offense and a sophisticated defense,” Marcucci said. “We have to try and control their passing and we have to limit mistakes on offense because their defense is so good at taking the ball away.”
The Rams had a plus-14 turnover ratio during the regular season, thanks largely to a defensive line that pressures opposing quarterbacks into hurried throws and a defensive backfield adept at picking off passes.
New Canaan was not pleased with how it played in a 31-28 quarterfinal win over Masuk and knows if it does not clean up its act it could be in trouble against a sound ND-WH team.
Marinelli is not sure if it was a hangover from a Thanksgiving loss to Darien that still had the Rams out of sorts, but he did not see the passion he normally does from his team.
“We need to bring back the living dead to just living,” Marinelli said. “I hope a day off (Wednesday) clears their heads. I have never been on a sideline that was so dead. It was like pulling teeth and I hope they respond.”
Marinelli said ball control will be key if his team is to be successful Monday.
“I think we will have to control the ball a little bit more,” Marinelli said. “I think we will have to have to kind of rethink what we are doing a little. We were very lucky to come out of that Masuk game alive.”